Secondly, I've realised that I've been on my soapbox a bit lately, and I'm probably starting to sound like I don't like Hong Kong all that much. It's true, I struggle from time to time, and I'm intensely homesick as Christmas looms but there are a lot of things I love about this place we now call home. I've decided to write a 2 part series on life in HK. Today's post will be a guide to the top 10 things you need as a parent living in this city. Stay tuned for a post later in the week where I'll give my top 10 things I love about HK. For today, the things you need to survive parenthood in Hong Kong:
1. A decent stroller. Most people I know, including us, own two. One for jogging or going for walks close to home, the other for trips out and about. We recently bought a Maclaren Quest: without a doubt THE best purchase we have made for J. It's light, zippy, easy to fold and comfortable. It reclines nicely for sleeping and has a basket for shopping underneath. It's also so small and light that most cab drivers will let you put it in the backseat beside you instead of in the boot (trunk). There are a vast number of similar light-weight strollers available in places like Bumps to Babes, Mothercare, Eugene Club and Toys R' Us, but they are more expensive here than anywhere else. Check out www.maclarenbaby.com/
2. In a similar vein, a good carrier is also a must. Public transport is not all that convenient when you're using a stroller so it's worth investing in a carrier of some kind. We have an Ergo, which J and my husband love, and it can be used until he weighs around 15kgs. I find it a bit hard on my back and prefer a Baby Bjorn style carrier but they're apparently not great for growing spines. Whatever you prefer, a carrier is an essential piece of equipment. www.ergobabycarrier.com/
3. Information: You need to know what to do, where to go, how to find whatever it is you need and who can help you, especially when you're new to HK. There are a few expat websites/forums out there and I have found them invaluable. AsiaXpat is great for buying and selling second-hand goods while GeoBaby is a great source of info on all things pregnancy and baby related. Check out: http://www.hongkong.asiaxpat.com or http://www.geobaby.com. My favourite website for HK specific parenting tips is (as I've mentioned before) Little Steps: www.littlestepshongkong.com/
4. A coffee machine is also a must if you like your caffeine and you're fussy about how it's delivered. There are some great places to get a decent coffee here but they are few and far between. Pacific Coffee shops are everywhere, and while I'd rate them higher than Starbucks, they're not for the true coffee connoisseur. I like Simply Life in IFC (although it does depend on who's working on the day), LGB (various locations), and Habitu (also a few of them around) for coffee out and about. Otherwise we rely on our Nespresso. I've just done some research on whether or not they use Fairtrade coffee and was pretty appalled by what I discovered. If you're interested in being an informed consumer let me know and I'll pass some info on. If you'd rather just drink a great cup of coffee at home every day you won't regret welcoming a coffee machine, Nespresso or otherwise, into your home: This is one appliance that won't end up in the back of the pantry gathering dust.
5. A Domestic Helper. I have mentioned some of the challenges associated with becoming an employer of a domestic helper in previous posts, but ours is really a member of our family for better or worse. She has made life here much easier given the lack of family around us. Being able to hire someone to look after the housework so I can get on with the job of looking after my son is one of the biggest perks of living in HK.
6. A good quality, well-stocked nappy bag. We have one from gr8x that opens out to a change mat. (http://gr8x.net/) I find it a bit bulky and there isn't much room for carrying the things I need, like a purse, phone etc so I end up carrying two bags. But, it is great on flights and when you're out trying to use those cold, hard change tables in shopping centres. I also have a small bag that has everything in it for short trips. Things that I always carry with me in HK (apart from the usual nappies, wipes, food etc) are a jacket or muslin cloth to cover your little one indoors (HK air-conditioning can be very chilly even in the middle of summer), clips or cords that attach to dummies/soothers and toys so you don't have to keep picking them up off the floor, and antiseptic, no-rinse hand sanitiser.
7. A great GP or access to a baby clinic. There are vast differences in the quality of healthcare in clinics across HK. Public clinics are generally free and can be fine, but the doctors, in my opinion, tend to overreact and overprescribe. We see a private GP here and most things are 100% covered by our health insurance (except vaccinations unfortunately). She has known J since birth and it is so reassuring knowing that she knows his complete medical history every time we see her. I had a terrifying experience at my one and only trip to a public clinic with J and won't risk it again. Baby clinics are also a great way to keep an eye on your little one's progress, talk to professionals, and meet other mums. A number of medical centres run them on a weekly basis and there's also a clinic, among many other things, at Annerley (http://www.annerley.com.hk/).
8. Playgroups/playdates: To be honest I'm not sure what it's like for those living on HK island or Kowloon-side but here on Lantau there's really no such thing as taking the kids to the park. There's the beach (if you don't mind dead fish and buffalo poo) and a couple of small play areas, but the only way to allow your little ones to really let off steam is to take them to organised playgroups. I've already mentioned the playgroups we take J to but there are a few other specialised play centres in HK that are worth a mention. Two that have been recommended are Playtown in Pok Fu Lam (www.playtown.com.hk), and Roly Pollies in Causeway Bay (www.rolypollies.com.hk). There are also many others around that offer play time in English and Mandarin if you're keen to encourage bilingualism from a young age. I would love to hear from anyone who knows of other places, especially those closer to South Lantau.
And finally 9 and 10: Patience and a sense of humour. Most people here are polite and some can be really quite helpful. But there are others who will push past you, bumping the stroller to get through an open door before it closes. Some days I feel like people are being deliberately unhelpful and others I feel completely invisible. Accepting these things as part of life in a city that has 7 million people crammed into a relatively small area will help you avoid getting too stressed about it. I also find it helps to leave yourself plenty of time to do anything, especially when you're out with a little one. I'm a huge fan of going out on days when I don't actually need to do anything, when we can just wander around and watch the hustle and bustle, and truly appreciate this fairly unique and fascinating place.